2021 Draft allowed Panthers to stockpile athletes

Brady Christensen

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers knew they wanted to leave the NFL Draft with more players.

But they also had more specific requirements in mind.

When general manager Scott Fitterer and head coach Matt Rhule were scouting this spring, there were tangible qualities they were looking for, in addition to all the game tape they watched.

"If you look at the great players on our team, there are certain positions where maybe not as much, but the great players on our team are all great, great, great athletes," Rhule said. "Christian McCaffrey's a great athlete, DJ Moore's a great athlete, Robby Anderson's a great athlete, Taylor Moton's a great athlete, Jeremy Chinn, Brian Burns, Donte Jackson, Shaq Thompson.

"This is a game made up of elite athletes. So, I think if you can find elite athletes with football instincts and also a love of the game, and who treat people well, you have something special. Again, the tape's the most important thing for us, but their metrics, they just verify that what you see on tape is real. Fast people run fast, they're powerful, they jump high, and these guys do all those things."

Raw athleticism (relative to their position) was a common trait among most of the 11 players they drafted. But perhaps no player sums up what they were looking for better than third-round tackle Brady Christensen.

Christensen, to put it mildly, put on a show at BYU's pro day. 

At 6-foot-6 and 302 pounds, Christensen posted workout numbers of much smaller men, or at least large men who generally are drafted higher than 70th overall. 

His 10-foot-4-inch broad jump was eye-popping, and a sign of the kind of explosive ability the Panthers were looking for in any player.

Christensen also had a 34-inch vertical leap, and a 4.89 second 40-yard dash. 

To put those numbers into context, his 40 time would have been the second-fastest among offensive linemen at the 2020 Scouting Combine (behind only Buccaneers first-round pick Tristan Wirfs' 4.85). The broad jump mark would have been best among blockers; the vertical jump, third. 

Christensen also had 30 repetitions of the 225-pound bench press (which would have been fifth-most at last year's Combine), and his times in the short-shuttle and three-cone drill would have been second best among offensive linemen.

Combine it all, and you get the "elite athlete" Rhule said the Panthers are looking for.

That's partly a function of fortunate DNA, but it also doesn't come easily.

Christensen did his pre-draft preparations with Dave Stroshine of Stroformance in Pleasant Grove, Utah. BYU quarterback Zach Wilson also trained there, and past players, including massive nose tackle Haloti Ngata were clients.

Stroshine's used to the time constraints on top prospects, but said he was impressed with the way Christensen consistently worked. Sometimes after a pro day, some players will take a break, the proverbial hay having been put in the barn. Especially for high picks, the time demands of Zoom calls with teams, or endorsement opportunities make it hard to keep a schedule.

Brady Christensen

In Christensen's case, that also included a newborn son, but Stroshine saw no difference.

"People say this about a lot of players, but he really loves to grind," Stroshine said. "Brady had a lot going on this spring, but even after pro day, he never missed a day of working out.

"I've had a lot of NFL players come through here, and they all look at him and say 'That guy gets it.'"

With that work, his natural athleticism began to shine.

Stroshine calls his linemen his "Big Sexies," and he promises to put them through the same kind of preparation as the little fellas, with a heavy emphasis on footwork and plyometrics to help them show how agile they can be.

Brady Christensen

"Brady was a two-star recruit coming out, but as he gained size and strength, he really worked on his athleticism," Stroshine said. "The speed work he did was the same that we do with defensive backs and receivers. And his body really soaked it up, and he adapted quickly.

"After you do that for a while, you remember what being an athlete feels like."

Stroshine puts all his players through a series of baseline tests when he begins working with them, so he can gauge their progress. One of those tests is a series of three broad jumps. The goal for any player is to get to 10 yards. Christensen's baseline came at 9 yards, with a long of 9 feet, 3 inches. Adding a foot to each jump, and crossing that 10-yard threshold indicates the work was successful.

How that translates into football, and his future position, remains to be seen. The Panthers think he could play guard as well. Of all his measurables, his 32-1/4-inch arms are on the short side, and remain some degree of concern.

Christensen believes he has other qualities to show it's not a problem.

"I think for sure I can play at a high level," he said. "I can play left tackle at a high level. I know I can. I proved it in college. I feel like those skills can definitely translate to playing left tackle in the NFL. With that being said, I feel like I can play all five and be very versatile. Like I said before, whatever the Panthers need, that's what I'm excited to go do and be able to play at a high level. . . .

"As a tackle, I feel like I have elite feet. When you have a wide‐nine speed rusher, I feel like I can really get to my spot. It's all about getting to the spot as a tackle and to be able to be in a position to win the block with balance, strength and leverage. I feel like that allows me to be in a really good position to win blocks pass protecting."

Christensen graded out consistently high as a blocker (including PFF's highest grades for a pass protector last year, better than first-rounder Penei Sewell's grades by their metrics), and the Panthers like the personality he brings.

But those things can be intangible. What they know is that Christensen is large, fast, and explosive.

And that's what exactly what they're looking for.

Christensen played at BYU from 2018-20 and was selected by Carolina in the third round. He posted a record grade by PFF in 2020.

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